Ever since co-founding Okta over 10 years ago, I've been interested in learning about other entrepreneurs' journeys and helping other leaders bring their visions to life. We all start with an initial idea and run into roadblocks as we grow, but how does each leader overcome those challenges? What does it take to go from two people at a borrowed desk to thousands of employees working on a billion dollar problem?

To answer these questions and more, I interviewed leaders from a variety of backgrounds-- from serial entrepreneur turned investor Marc Andreessen, to technology leaders Parker Harris of Salesforce and Aaron Levie of Box, even star basketball player Andre Iguodala-- for the first season of the Zero to IPO podcast.

Each one had a unique perspective on what it takes to push through tough times on the road to success. And several guests mentioned they turned to books (either writing or reading them) to share and attain valuable business advice and lessons.

For any entrepreneur out there looking for inspiration on what it takes to make it big, here are five books written and recommended by the people behind Zero to IPO to get you started.

1. Disciplined Entrepreneurship: 24 Steps to a Successful Startup, by Bill Aulet

This book by Bill Aulet, a key player behind the scenes in creating Zero to IPO and Managing Director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, is the academic guide on how to build a startup by developing an innovative product.

Aulet, who was also a former professor of mine at the MIT Sloan School of Management, shares a framework that breaks down the crazy road to starting a company into simplified, accessible steps. Any startup leader or repeat entrepreneur should consider this book a guide to creating a sustainable, innovation-based business.

2. Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters

One of my favorite books on entrepreneurship is this one written by Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, Palantir Technologies and Founders Fund, with Blake Masters, COO of Thiel Capital. Not only did it inspire the title for the podcast, but this book has been a go-to resource for me for the many critical facets of building an innovative business.

Thiel encourages entrepreneurs to think for themselves, break conventions and change the rules. He also shares practical advice on daily execution and subjects like sales, an important topic that authors covering entrepreneurship tend to avoid.

3. Secrets of Sand Hill Road, by Scott Kupor

While not directly involved in the making of the podcast, Scott Kupor, managing partner at Andreessen Horowitz, has been a major player in Okta's growth from zero to IPO-- and very few know venture capital better than he does. His recently published book shares insights from Silicon Valley's Sand Hill Road into what venture capitalists might be saying about your business behind closed doors and how and where VCs decide to invest in the first place.

Understanding how VCs think is critical to the success of early-stage companies and Kupor's book uncovers the role of venture capital at every stage of the startup lifecycle. It is an insightful read for anyone building a VC-backed business.  

4. Powerful: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility, by Patty McCord

As a company scales, it's impossible to maintain the culture-- it should evolve and grow. We learned from Zero to IPO guest Patty McCord, Netflix's former chief talent officer, that the best way to build a strong, long-term company culture is to focus on hiring the right people and maintain fierce transparency about expectations for each employee.

In her book, McCord covers the importance of radical transparency in the workplace-- including saying goodbye to old standbys of corporate HR and parting ways with employees who don't fit emerging company needs. By hiring primarily for experience over passion, you'll bring on only those uniquely qualified to solve key problems. Her book offers raw and real advice for creating a culture of high performance.

5. The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There are No Easy Answers, by Ben Horowitz

Ben Horowitz, entrepreneur and co-founder of Andreessen Horowitz, knows better than anyone that building and running a successful business can get dark. On the podcast, he shared glimpses into his entrepreneurial journey from his "IPO from hell" to when he ran out of cash shortly after taking LoudCloud public.

In The Hard Thing About Hard Things, he recounts the lows of building a company that often go undiscussed in the media. He shares wisdom on topics from how to sell, buy, invest in, and lead companies to advice on how to manage your own psychology and emotions as a CEO, making it an important read for any entrepreneur.

BONUS: What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture by Ben Horowitz

Horowitz's latest book isn't available yet, but add it on your list for later this year. It's a journey through ancient culture to modern, answering the timeless question of how to build a purposeful culture through the lens of impactful leaders throughout history.

It spotlights some of the very first models of culture-building, relating those built by leaders in history (think the samurai, Genghis Khan) to what we see in modern organizations (like Uber and Netflix). And, true to Horowitz, it provides a completely fresh take on how any entrepreneur can create a sustainable culture.

If you're on the road to building something big, consider adding these books to your reading list to spark inspiration. Many have been on this path before and through their stories can share key insights, advice and tools to help you reach your next milestone.

Published on: Aug 2, 2019
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